Improving literacy through residential experiences at South Hetton

Key features

  • Improving progress in literacy
  • Integrating with the curriculum
  • Student leadership

Amongst the many schools that experienced impacts on literacy as a result of their Learning Away residentials, examples in two partnerships (South Hetton and Christ Church) stand out. Both partnerships were tackling a problem in Years 5 and 6 in which pupils, particularly boys, had begun to loose confidence and interest in literacy. Their test scores had plateaued. In both the approach to planning residentials has become organic with staff and pupils suggesting topics and dates often at short notice. Both combined a visit from a creative writer with a residential to great effect.

This case study describes the approach developed by the three primary schools in the South Hetton partnership. It highlights the importance of curriculum integration, the significance of the different approach to teaching and learning developed while away and the impact that pupil leadership can make.

The staff of the three  South Hetton schools have developed a wide range of residentials from Year 1 to 6 and all are integrated into the curriculum. Costs have been kept down as many of the trips camp locally using the schools’ shared equipment. One of the South Hetton headteachers outlined the role that these residentials play in the school:

“I have introduced a range of strategies alongside residentials to lift the standards in this school. Standards are rising from a low ebb and this year especially will take a big upward jump. Many things are contributing, but I feel the residentials are a big part of this. They change the way teachers think of the children and teach in the classroom, the way they see the children, and the expectations they have of pupils.”

“After four years residentials are now embedded in this school. The staff are enthusiastic about them. All staff are involved and promote trips to their pupils and integrate the experiences into their classroom work. Most staff expect to go on trips and many are active in proposing themes and destinations.” 

As part of the year five programme the staff of two schools decided to add literacy as an objective to a three-day excursion to the nearby coastline.

“We put on an extra creative writing residential with a local author. The children read his book and the author came into to school to do readings before going away. On the trip the author joined them and they then wrote their own stories in workshops inspired by the local setting. The children were very enthusiastic and took to the author as he went to school locally, lives nearby and they know his books are popular.” (Year 5 teacher)

The staff also believed that social and study skills also contributed to the outcomes of the visit:

I notice positive changes in pupil resilience, confidence, their team working skills, their independence as learners and, in social settings, their determination – after the trips they are more prepared to have a go at new challenges and to stick at things.” (Headteacher)

Kids would sleep beside each other that you would never ever see play together in school. The child you think is a shy child gets put in with a few others and you really see them come out of themselves. So you think she’s not really that shy, she just never gets a chance to speak really. In school they don’t really get a choice of where they sit or who they sit with because they sit in their ability groups, but when they’re away they don’t really get an ability set, so they can play with who they want.” (Year 5 teacher)

The Year 5 pupils from one class table group confirmed this. They had below average scores in their literacy tests before the residential. On return two pupils, who had also been identified and trained on residentials as leaders in their year group, organised the table. They discussed what they had learned on the trip that had helped them to succeed at challenges, then applied these to their collaborative study in class. These are some of the things they  said:

Because of the trip, on my table we all have to work together to get these table points and I think it helped with the trip, the trip helped us do that. Because the trip helped us work together, it’s helped us get more. Our points are going up instead of down because we’re working together more and we’re actually paying more attention to the teacher and not just messing round drawing stuff.” 

 “… like our reading was on a 3b before I went to the camp. After it turned out to be a 4a.”

You want to take part and because I think it’s learning for the test what we learned from the trip, I think that’s how my level has gone up.”

This was confirmed by the teacher who commented that this improvement took place in just four weeks. The impact was most significant on pupils with below average literacy scores and particularly noticeable amongst boys.

We’ve found it’s enhanced their speaking and listening skills, their vocabulary because it’s first hand, it’s not from a book, they’ve experienced it first hand they can talk about it and their talking leads into their writing.” (Year 6 teacher)

The positive feedback led to an uptake in interest in English and in exploring curriculum themes using the spoken and written word.

We should do poems. Because poems it’s about something we’ve done, our memories. Because if we went on the camp we would have something to say about it. We could visit a place like Beatrix Potter, someone who’s done really good poems.” (Year 5 pupil)

An inspiring writer, an exciting place, the interactive pedagogy of learning outdoors and the informal time away on residential all contributed to enhanced group work, collaboration and the knowledge amongst the pupils that they can solve difficult challenges and make progress. All have impacted on classroom progress, skills, motivation and attitudes.